The Gophers had just lost 24-14 to Northwestern, and Blake Cashman felt the emotions hit him. The linebacker played his final game at TCF Bank Stadium, and he wanted to take it all in. So, he gathered senior teammates Julian Huff, Gary Moore and Payton Jordahl for a moment.
“As I walked off the field, I grabbed some of the seniors and looked back at the stadium, knowing it was the last time I put on the maroon and gold [at home],’’ said Cashman, the former Eden Prairie High School standout. “I took a view of TCF, and I was kind of overwhelmed with emotions. Also, part of that was frustration with not getting the win today and bowl eligibility.”
It was an emotional day, for sure, for Cashman, but also a highly productive one. He finished with a career-high 20 tackles — a TCF Bank Stadium record by a Gophers player — and added a sack, 2½ tackles for loss and a pass breakup. This came a week after he had another huge game, nine tackles and a forced fumble that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown in the 41-10 rout of Purdue.
“We’re going to miss that young man one day,’’ Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “He’s an incredible player.’’
Cashman’s value was apparent right away Saturday. He made two tackles on Northwestern’s first possession, helping force a three-and-out, and repeated that on the Wildcats’ second possession. In the second quarter, the Wildcats drove to the Gophers 24 and faced fourth-and-6. Because of injuries at kicker, they eschewed a field-goal attempt and went for it on fourth down.
But Cashman sacked quarterback Clayton Thorson for a 14-yard loss, ending the threat. The tackle was Cashman’s ninth of the game to that point, just the beginning of a big afternoon.
“It felt more special,’’ Cashman said afterward. “… We’ve gone through a lot of adversity and put in a lot of work over the last four or five years. We wanted to go out on a good note, and unfortunately we didn’t. But I had a lot of fun playing with them, and I’m very excited to see what we can do next week.’’
Fleck raved about Cashman’s play and what he means to the team.
“I wish I had 130 Blake Cashmans, because he’s exactly what college football is all about, what it should be about,’’ Fleck said. “He’s a very selfless player. What he did today was really special, and I’ll remember that the rest of my life. Twenty tackles — he was all over the field.’’
Climbing the charts
Junior receiver Tyler Johnson caught eight passes for 88 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter. He became the fifth Gophers player with a 1,000-yard season (he has 1,036) and needs 90 yards next week at Wisconsin to break Ron Johnson’s single-season school record (1,125 in 2000).
Johnson also has 70 receptions this season, third-most in school history, and 10 TD receptions, one shy of tying the school record.
“He’s become a big-time college football wide receiver, a complete wide receiver,’’ Fleck said.
• Freshman cornerback Terell Smith, who had started nine games and played in all 10 entering Saturday, did not play because of a lower leg injury. Fleck said Smith played through the injury last week but it was hindering him this week.
• Defensive tackle O.J. Smith missed his sixth consecutive game and Antonio Shenault his fourth in a row because of head injuries. Defensive tackle Royal Silver missed his second straight game because of an undisclosed injury.